Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Exploring the Galaxy

In 2008 I created Galaxy Gameworks as a small LLC to handle commercial licensing of Simple DirectMedia Layer on the iPhone. Since then I have been maintaining it at a minimal level in my spare time to make it possible for people to use SDL on iOS and other embedded platforms.

As soon as I made the concrete decision to leave Blizzard, my brain started exploding with ideas on how to expand Galaxy Gameworks into a full blown games middleware company. My vision was to build the company into three pillars each designed to help people make games:
  1. Software: Starting with SDL and expanding to meet important needs for small developers, based on my experience leading a development team at Blizzard Entertainment.
  2. Education: I have always been a big fan of student and indie development, and I know an awesome woman, Brandii Grace, who used to teach at Digipen and is on the board of the LA Independent Game Developer Association who could help start this.
  3. Consulting: This is a less developed idea, but there are lots of companies that need help at strategic points to help get their games shipped, and this would be a great service to complement software and education.
As soon as I left Blizzard, I blasted into overtime starting development on SDL and learning what I needed to build Galaxy Gameworks into a real business. I had lots of connections and people interested in what I was doing, and was really excited about the possibilities. I gave myself until the end of March to explore what is involved with creating a company and making my dream a reality, without committing myself.

It was a really amazing experience. I brought all the pieces together to start the company:

Company Vision
I have seen quite a few companies in my day, and I wanted to bring a company vision that incorporated the best of what I have seen, with an eye towards practicality and treating employees really well. I also wanted to have clear goals so that employees who are brought on and potentially given ownership have a good idea of the kind of company we are trying to make.

Virtual Office
I decided early on that I wanted to create a virtual office. This gives flexibility in hiring and reduces overhead, but means you have to work harder to find people who can be self-disciplined, stay motivated, and communicate well remotely. I put together a virtual office around Google services, and set up business phone and FAX. I also worked out the advantages and risks associated with distributed development, and talked to some companies that actually operate that way to find out how it works in practice.

Website
Good branding and easy to use website are really important. Some of the important elements are a showcase for your products, good documentation, clean presentation, and easy navigation.  I hired someone to create a logo (the process is described in another blog post) and create a new website for a commercial presentation.  The result is at http://www.galaxygameworks.com and while it's not complete, it's a good start.

Customer Service
I hired a friend of mine, Jen, to handle customer communication and start setting up hiring processes. She is is amazing at organization and has customer service and HR experience. She is handling the mailing list and forum, organizing bug reports, and handling customer inquiries and licensing. She also did research on the tax implications of hiring contractors and full time employees in other states and potentially other countries.

Documentation
I have been working very closely with my friend Sheena, who has great technical writing skills and is learning programming, to put together high quality API documentation (work in progress at http://wiki.libsdl.org) We also put together plans for tutorials and use cases with examples.

Business Plan
I worked with my wife Lauren and an old friend Jeremy on the draft of a business plan. Lauren is awesome because she is a technical writer by trade and can take large amounts of technical information and organize it in an easy to understand manner. Jeremy is awesome because he's spent the last 15 years or so in software sales and business development, and is extremely innovative and works well with customers.

Between the three of us, we came up with a great business plan centered around three products. The business plan really helped us focus on our goals and business strategy. We thought about our strengths and weaknesses (SWOT analysis), our competitors and potential partners, the trends in the games industry, and our costs and potential sources of income.

We got great feedback on our plan, and a few themes came up repeatedly:
  • What problems are you solving?
  • Keep it short - what's your elevator pitch?
  • Can you show a fast return on investment?

In response to the feedback, we cut one of the products to stay focused and reduce costs and ended up with a revenue and expense chart that looks something like this:


Investors like to see an exponential chart, and a return in the 6-18 month timeframe. :)

Coda
I'm pretty confident I could find some investors at the $300,000 price point and create a small sustainable company creating middleware in the games industry.

At the end of the day though, I realized that even though I have all the pieces I need and lots of support from friends and customers, it was taking all my waking hours and would continue to do so. In a few years when the girls are older and becoming independent that might be okay, but my time with them is precious and I want to have as much of it as possible now.

So, I'm closing Galaxy Gameworks for now, and the quest continues...

20 comments:

  1. Have a great time with your family Sam, and best of luck on future ventures!

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  2. Well, SDL is alredy a great mark on the indie game development history isnt it? Best wishes o/

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  3. Best of luck Sam. I haven't talked to the powers in charge; but there may be some way that you could work on the PDK team @ HP/Palm if you're interested. This may be an opportunity to further SDL; albeit focused on WebOS & Desktop. You know how to find me if that's of interest to you; I can talk to folks around the office and see if it's a possibility. Some folks work remotely too in our group; so being remote may not be a show stopper.


    -Chris

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  4. Thanks Chris. I've actually been interviewing and have something lined up that will hopefully give me good home time. :)

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  5. Given your experience with SDL on iOS (and developers using SDL on iOS), perhaps you could work with Palm to pivot Galaxy Gameworks to helping iOS developers porting SDL apps to WebOS. :D

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  6. Best of luck! Hope you find the balance you need.

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  7. Sorry to lose you for awhile, but I totally understand about family.

    One question: I was planning to port some of my SDL-based games to iOS later this year, and was planning to contact you then. But with this news, I'm wondering if SDL is still available for iOS? Can I still license it from you?

    Thanks!

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  8. Troy, SDL is still available for iOS under the LGPL. I'm in the process of working out details for people to use SDL 1.3 under a commercial friendly license, but those haven't been finalized yet.

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  9. Good.. Take a break.. It will give me some time to learn and catch up.. hopefully I can be of some help later in life..

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  10. Ok, thanks! I didn't see iOS listed with the other supported operating systems on the SDL home page, so I thought maybe iOS was only available through the commercial license. Or only in v1.3. I'm using the LGPL v1.2.14 in my games.

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  11. Troy, SDL 1.2 doesn't support iOS, and even if it did you couldn't use it for commercial games because of the LGPL licensing terms.

    You'll want to use SDL 1.3, which will be under the zlib license soon.

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  12. Kickstart it back up when you're ready...

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  13. Kickstart it. Come On !

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